This week in restaurant tech: Google's in the driver's seat
Welcome to Expedite, a weekly (for now) newsletter by Kristen Hawley covering what’s important in restaurant technology.
Special Wednesday edition brought to you by the Labor Day holiday weekend
Google’s in the Driver’s Seat
If you’re looking for a signal about the direction of consumer-facing restaurant technology, look no further than Google.
After years of startup culture dominating new tech in restaurants, pushing the industry forward, there’s a familiar player on the block driving big changes and innovation. The search giant is certainly not first-to-market in the restaurant space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t set the pace for the future.
So, what do you do when Google copies you, restaurant tech?
Google restaurants? Really?
Services meant to connect restaurants to consumers — like OpenTable or Grubhub, for example — are essentially search engines for restaurants. Once a consumer finds a restaurant, they’re prompted to take action. Reserve! Order! Like! Call! Whatever.
Google isn’t copying existing business models per se. But Google is the world’s largest search engine, which essentially makes it the world’s largest restaurant search engine. The way we search on the internet has changed a lot, mostly thanks to mobile technology. Between 2015 and 2017 (the most recent data I could find), Google searches “near me” increased 500 percent.
Searches for “open now near me” (as in “restaurants near me open now”) increased 200 percent in the same time period. This illustrates the change: instead of going to the dedicated search engine for restaurants — an OpenTable for reservations, a Grubhub for delivery — we just search Google or Google Maps.
Legacy restaurant tech companies are doing plenty to combat this. I’ll use OpenTable as an example because it’s top of mind: a couple years ago when it completely redesigned its mobile app, it did so with “near me now’ in mind. And more recently, OpenTable — known strictly for reservations — added restaurant delivery options into its app search results. Search engine for restaurants.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece for that site that doesn’t exist anymore about Google Maps and its increasingly important presence in our day-to-day restaurant interactions. Google isn’t going after restaurant customers the way that an OpenTable or a Grubhub does; it likely has no interest in maintaining those relationships. Google is going after changing consumer behavior, taking taps and clicks out of the equation and connecting the dots faster. In fact, recent data shows that over 50 percent of searches on Google end without a click to other content.
Partner programs like Reserve with Google for making reservations and integrations for food delivery go after consumers where they are. (They’re in search results or Google Maps, if that wasn’t clear by now.) And if they’re not monetizing it yet, you can bet that’s not far behind. Because...
Oh, and there’s advertising, too.
I really don’t want to get into advertising today because there’s enough content there to fill a few more newsletters, but don’t forget: the ads that show up in search results — like when you search for your favorite local restaurant — appear for a reason. Often that reason is that a competing business or, for our purposes, a third-party tech provider, bid on the search term. That search engine for restaurants just got a lot more capitalistic.
Here’s what else is happening in restaurant tech:
The gig economy is not winning big in California.
A bill regarding the classification of drivers for services like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash will advance to the state senate floor for a vote. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have said they’re committing a combined $90 million to fight the bill if it passes.
Tech-fueled gig work has found its way to restaurant kitchens...
...and the New York Times is on it. Pared, based in San Francisco, is one of the companies that connects restaurant management to short-term kitchen help. And there are others.
Surprise! Humans dislike being managed by algorithms.
Speaking of the gig economy and its potential future as a way to disrupt the American workforce (though not if the state of California has its say), here’s the Harvard Business Review on what people hate about being managed by algorithms, according to Uber drivers.
WeWork acquires Spacious
Spacious is a company built on co-working and shared spaces much like WeWork (now named the We Company), but instead of office space they make use of restaurant spaces when the businesses are closed. More on the move here.
Yelp launches a personalized app experience.
Last week, Yelp unveiled its new mobile app. With recommendations tailored to dining and even dietary preferences, the app becomes a just-for-you experience — if (big if) you take the time to set your preferences. Yelp’s blog post on the changes calls the experience “a personal concierge for all things local.” (Sounds like... a search engine for restaurants.)
Expedite is produced by Kristen Hawley, a San Francisco-based journalist with over six years of experience covering the restaurant technology industry. Previous iterations of this content were available via Chefs+Tech and Skift Table. Thanks for reading.
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